A sunny and vibrant town located on New Zealand’s picturesque west coast, New Plymouth is one of New Zealand’s best beachside destinations!
New Plymouth is known for its contemporary art, hipster cafes and eateries and breathtaking scenery.
Whether you’re enticed by hiking for views of Mount Taranaki, dining at delicious restaurants or soaking up the art-scene, there are plenty of great things to do in New Plymouth and Taranaki.
Read on for our top picks!
Things to Do in New Plymouth
New Plymouth is a little out of the way, with the drive from Auckland taking 4 ½ hours, or Rotorua 4 hours, making it a destination that often gets skipped on New Zealand itineraries.
We reckon this is a big mistake! New Plymouth is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand and is really packed full with awesome New Plymouth activities. We’d recommend all travellers make the drive!
1. Hike to the Pouakai Tarns
There was really no question what activity would make it to the top of this list. This is the location of the quintessential view of Mount Taranaki with the postcard perfect ‘lake’ in the foreground.
Although technically a tarn (which is more like a swamp-y, alpine pond) and not a lake, we don’t believe this detracts from the unbelievably beautiful view you get at the top of the hike.
The Pouakai Tarns hike itself is quite demanding, it takes about 4 – 5 hours and covers 12.2km in distance. The real challenge is the 782m of elevation gain which will leave your legs burning at the top.
If you’re of average fitness (I’d say we are) then you’ll get up with a bit of effort.
Near the top there is a small hut and campsite which are great spots to spend a night if you’re wanting to watch sunrise / sunset from the tarns (which we’d highly recommend). Just remember to book with DOC!
Once you make it to the tarns you will get spectacular views out over Mount Taranaki. Or you might just see clouds. There are a few tricks to getting it right here:
- Aim to arrive at the Pouakai Tarns for sunrise. The lighting is best at this time and usually the wind will be calmer resulting in better reflections on the water.
- Consider staying in the hut so you can visit the tarn at sunrise and sunset. Two opportunities double your chances of good conditions.
- Time your hike when the wind is forecasted to be low and the low cloud coverage isn’t too high.
- Wait. This is the most important tip we can possibly convey. Clouds move, if you just wait they will often part even when it looks impossible. You hiked up a mountain to get here so be patient.
When we visited it was extremely white-out cloudy and we saw a lot of people hike up, see the views then leave frustrated. 5-minutes later the clouds would separate and it would look like the photo below.
2. Peruse the Govett Brewster Art Gallery & Len Lye Centre
The Govett Brewster Art Gallery is an impressive work of art in itself. This magnificent building, designed by Patterson Associates, has a wavy facade built out of steel polished to reflect like a mirror. It is clearly inspired by the works of the acclaimed New Zealand artist, Len Lye.
We’d recommend anyone at least stop to view the building (it’s hard to miss) and take a few photographs. If you have time, head inside to peruse the art galleries. Admission is $15 for tourists.
There are usually two exhibitions on. One which is seasonal and changes from time to time but is usually poignant and meaningful, the other is a constant exhibit of the works of Len Lye.
Len Lye was a famous filmmaker, but we particularly loved his kinetic sculptures, many of which you can find scattered around New Plymouth.
3. Stay in a Church With Panoramic Views
Well, we don’t think this is a real church but it does look like one! And the views really are panoramic. Plus, if you find yourself in the mood to get married you can do it without having to leave your accommodation!
Little Church Bay is a beautiful, beachfront holiday home located on a cliff overlooking Fitzroy Beach. Despite these views you could easily forget that the accommodation is also conveniently placed within walking distance of all the bars and restaurants in town.
If you’re looking for somewhere special to stay with epic views and a quirky vibe, then Little Church Bay is it.
4. Climb Paritutu Rock and See the Sugarloafs
Paritutu Rock is the perfect way to get bearings in New Plymouth. By hiking to the top of this 156m high rock you’ll achieve commanding views out over New Plymouth town, the harbour and the iconic Sugarloaf Islands.
These adorably named natural landmarks are a collection of five islands that are essentially stumps that remain from an ancient volcano. Apparently (we haven’t been down there) below the surface are dramatic cliffs, canyons and reefs.
Now to reach those views and get those photos you’re going to have to work hard. Although the climb only takes about 15 minutes, it is a scramble that is closer to rock climbing than hiking. We saw one person give up half-way, held back by her fear of heights.
5. Eat at the New Plymouth Restaurants
New Plymouth’s restaurant scene is epic! We’re huge foodies so we always love it when we can visit a town or city that has great restaurants whilst still being interesting.
There are heaps of great places to try and it’s best you get out there and pick your faves, but here are some of ours!
For brunch, Monica’s Eatery and The Public Catering Company are the best spots.
Ms White have the best pizzas, like seriously they’re that good, as well as craft beers on tap. For more craft beers, the nearby Three Sisters Brewery have succulent beers available but the food is pretty basic.
Cafe Turquoise was an interesting winner for us and is probably our favourite restaurant in town, despite being super cheap.
Last but not least, definitely pay a visit to Liardet St Food Court which is a trendy area with a bunch of great eateries.
6. Walk Across Te Rewa Rewa Bridge at Sunset
In order to extend the Coastal Walkway to the north, New Plymouth District Council commissioned the design and construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Waiwhakaiho river.
Rather than building yet another boring foot bridge, they built an architecturally marvellous bridge designed to blend in with the environment whilst standing on its own as a work of art.
An intentional design decision was also made to ensure that Mount Taranaki lines up perfectly within the arch. When you visit, make sure to walk to the end of the bridge and take a photo looking back at Mount Taranaki.
7. Visit Pukekura Park
Pukekura Park is a pleasant botanical garden located right next to the busier New Plymouth city centre. It’s worth popping over for a stroll.
There are a couple of lookouts, playgrounds, water fountains, sculptures and small lakes. Poet’s Bridge is particularly picturesque and a great spot for a photo.
8. Enjoy a Coffee or Brunch at the New Plymouth Cafes
If you enjoy a good coffee or brunch, then make sure to check out some of the cafes around New Plymouth. As mentioned earlier, our faves are Billor or Monica’s Eatery for a more formal brunch setting, or The Public Catering Company for some absolutely delicious snacks.
For good coffees you can also head to Escape Coffee Roasters and Ozone Coffee Roasters.
9. Watch the Sunset at Black Rock and Back Beach
Located right next to Paritutu Rock, if you time it well you can combine the climb with watching the sunset over Black Rock from Back Beach.
This black sand beach combined with rough waves make for a particularly dramatic scene, especially with the right lighting. Otherwise, if you can’t make it during sunset then it’s also a great spot to head for a beach walk at any time.
10. Visit the Lake Mangamahoe Lookouts
Lake Managamahoe is our favourite spot to view Mount Taranaki, without having to venture too far from New Plymouth. It’s an easy 13-minute drive from town.
If you have the time, there is an easy 5km walk around the beautiful lake which we’d love to do one day, but you can also stop off at the carpark and wander about 10-minutes along the track to a couple of great viewpoints.
We’d recommend heading here for sunset, but make sure to go on a very clear day as Mount Taranaki is quite far away. Our photo below would’ve been better if it was a bit clearer.
11. Hike to the Summit of Mount Taranaki
Okay, this isn’t going to be realistic for most people (including us), and fortunately we generally prefer to photograph impressive landmarks rather than be in top of them. This is why we’d recommend photographers seek out spots like Lake Mangamahoe or the Pouakai Tarns first.
However, if you’re an avid hiker or mountaineer then you will no doubt love to attempt the hike up Mount Taranaki. Overall, it is an 8 – 10 hour expert-level tramp that climbs 1,421m to a peak of 2,518m over 11.7km.
If you’re a fit and experienced hiker it should be do-able during Summer, but during Winter you’ll need professional equipment and experience climbing mountains in snowy conditions.
12. Spot the Wind Wand
One of the things that makes New Plymouth such an interesting town to visit is the fact that Len Lye’s huge art works have been constructed and placed all around the town.
The Wind Wand is one such brainchild of his, a magnificent metal ‘wand’ that protrudes from the concrete along the waterfront and seemingly waves around defiantly in the wind.
I can’t begin to imagine how it works, but it’s cooler than it looks in the photo.
13. Eat at Liardet Street Project
Liardet Street Project is a trendy, upscale food court located right in the heart of New Plymouth city centre. It’s semi-outdoors and looks a bit scungy from the outside, but when you get in it’s just part of the vibe.
We’ve tried most of the restaurants and felt they were all decent, however, none stood out on their own. One we didn’t try was Gamma Ray’s which we have heard has possibly the best burgers in New Plymouth, but we’ll try it next time we’re down.
It’s a cool spot though and it’s worth hanging out here for a bite to eat.
14. Drive the Surf Highway 45
The famous Surf Highway 45 is a 105km long strip of road that follows the coast as you circumvent Mount Taranaki from New Plymouth to Hawera.
Naturally, if you love surfing then this will probably be your favourite highway in the world! But despite this, there are a bunch of attractions throughout the towns along the way, so many that some people opt to embark on a 3-4 day road trip itinerary along this highway.
Unless you are heading down to Wellington (if you are, check out our guide to the best things to do in Wellington), then we’d instead just drive the portion up to Cape Egmont Lighthouse to get a good taste of the Surf Highway 45 before turning back to New Plymouth.
15. Check Out Cape Egmont Lighthouse
Wow, we saw some photos of Cape Egmont Lighthouse taken by some amazing photographers so naturally we made the drive out here. The spot is stunning, set right up against a moody and rugged west coast beach, looking back at the lighthouse backdropped by the mighty Mount Taranaki.
The photo is quite easy to capture, you’ll want to head here for sunset (or optionally sunrise) with a zoom lens to line up the two focal points.
Unfortunately, when we went to scope out the place the lighthouse was under construction, I suppose it needed some repairs. But once these repairs are complete we look forward to heading here again as it’s such a beautiful spot!
16. Walk to Dawson Falls
An hour away from New Plymouth will bring you to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre where you can find a host of incredible walks and hikes.
The two main hikes here are the Kapuni Loop Track to Dawson Falls and Wilkies Pools Loop Track walks. The former is a 1-hour loop past the picturesque Dawson Falls. The latter being a 1 hr 20min loop past Wilkies Pools which is a refreshing spot for a dip.
Hikers can also look into doing the Stratford Plateau Track that continues on from the Wilkies Pools Loop Track for a 4-hour return hike through moss-covered forest with a few interesting features along the way.
17. Grab a Pizza and Beer at Ms White
One day we were strolling through New Plymouth town wondering what to eat and ended up walking past Ms White. It smelled great and looked trendy so we took a seat, ordered a couple of brews and a truffle pizza to share. We can’t say no to truffle oil on anything.
Turns out they whipped up arguably the best pizza we’ve ever eaten! We were blown away by this place, so much so that we decided to include it on a list of the best things to do in New Plymouth! So definitely don’t miss Ms White if you love pizza.
18. Stroll or Cycle Along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
Completing at least a portion of the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a must-do whilst in New Plymouth. The walkway is well-maintained and the vibe is typically best described as serene (except in a few more congested parts like the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge).
The entire New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is 13km long so walking the entire length would be a bit crazy. We opted to walk along a few of the more interesting sections. However, next time we go we’re planning to hire a couple of bikes and complete the entire walkway.
Cycle Inn is located in town, not far from the coastal walkway, and offers bike hire for $15 for 2-hours or $25 for a full day. We reckon 2-hours would be plenty of time to cycle the length of the track and back.
19. Walk Out to the Three Sisters
If you’re driving from Auckland to New Plymouth, or vice versa, you’ll need to pass the Three Sisters located about an hours’ drive north of town.
At one point, this location contained four sisters as well as Elephant Rock. Sadly, erosion has taken away two of the four rock 25-metre rock formations as well as Elephant Rock’s trunk.
What remains now are two of the sisters and the body of Elephant rock. If you look carefully on a clear day you should also be able to see Mount Taranaki in the distance.
Regardless, it’s still a cool spot to visit! The only catch is you need to time it within 2-hours either side of low tide, something which we were unable to do.
20. Explore the Whitecliffs Walkway
Along the same road you’ll find Whitecliffs Walkway This is a 3 – 4 hour loop that returns via the beach as long as you time it well with low tide. Expect spectacular coastal views the entire way.
You’ll begin the hike by walking over farmland and the Whitecliffs Conservation Area. To reach the beach follow the stream to the coast then walk back to your starting point along the beach.
Note: the walkway is closed during lambing season from July 1st to September 30th.
21. Grab a Drink at the Best Bars in New Plymouth
Alongside a myriad of amazing restaurants and cafes, New Plymouth has a fairly solid bar scene compared to most New Zealand towns. If you enjoy a good craft beer or cider, head to Shining Peak Brewing, Three Sisters Brewery or Ms White.
If you’re more of the classy cocktail sipping type, then Snug Lounge is a flash Japanese restaurant serving delicious cocktails.
Or for a high-end wine experience, Itch Wine Bar looked good to us – but we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves! We also heard the cocktails here are the best in town.
New Plymouth Accommodation
We’ve loved each trip we’ve taken to New Plymouth and every place we’ve ever stayed has been amazing, but we also get that picking can be hard so here are a few of our favourite places to stay in New Plymouth. Make sure to check them out!
Budget Pick: Ariki Backpackers
How to Get to New Plymouth
New Plymouth is located a 5-hour drive from Auckland or a 4 ½-hour drive from Wellington. Although there is an airport, most people opt to drive to New Plymouth.
How Long Should I Spend in New Plymouth?
How long you spend in New Plymouth depends on what you’re hoping to get out of your trip! If you’re working your way through a New Zealand North Island Itinerary then 2-4 days would be perfect. But if you’re planning to do some longer hikes you may want longer.
Is New Plymouth Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! New Plymouth is the nearest town to the impressive Mount Taranaki, an iconic dormant stratovolcano. It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in seeing New Zealand’s most beautiful sights.
Best Time to Visit New Plymouth
New Plymouth is great to visit all year round. The best time to visit New Plymouth is during Summer or the shoulder seasons as the conditions are clearer and the weather more tolerable when exploring the attractions.